• Jane Arthur

Book Reviews: New Picturebooks from Aotearoa

Here's the latest in brilliant Kiwi picture books, reviewed by co-founder Jane Arthur. Whether you're looking to learn about your place in the world, wanting to discuss love in all its shapes and forms, or lose track of time with an interactive story, there's something for everyone in this lineup.

Mihi by Gavin Bishop (Gecko Press)

Mihi is a simple board book that contains multitudes. It’s an introduction to the concept of mihi — acknowledging where we come from — by Gavin Bishop (Tainui, Ngāti Awa), one of the absolute top-tier children’s book writers and illustrators of Aotearoa, who’s been making books for 40 years now.

A spread from Mihi, by Gavin Bishop, Gecko Press.

Across the nine spreads, the reader follows a Māori child’s expression of their identity and whakapapa as they acknowledge their maunga, marae, iwi, whānau and more. The design and illustrations are really appealing — simple, uncluttered and striking — and it’s great to see a child protagonist who’s not any particular gender.

...it's great to see a child protagonist who's not any particular gender.

This would be a lovely book to gift your local early childhood education centre — or young New Zealand child — this Christmas. The text and concept were advised by Darryn Joseph and Piripi Walker.


by Gavin Bishop

Gecko Press

RRP $17.99

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Hedgehog Heart by James Antoniou and illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson (Duck Creek Press)

This book is a thoughtful celebration of the different ways we each have of expressing our emotions and love for others. Its use of metaphor is clever, and would be a great model to use in class for young primary school children to think up their own. Some examples from the book include: 'Grandad’s heart is a cat. Shy at first, but then it purrs.' and 'My cousin Rachel’s heart is a monkey. She is so cheeky to the people she loves!'

[This book] would be a great model to use in class for young primary school children to think up their own [metaphors].

It’s a lovely, empathetic way to discuss the fact that some people are more reserved than others when showing their affection (or other emotions), but that variety should all be equally accepted and celebrated.

A spread from Hedgehog Heart, by James Antoniou and Nikki Slade Robinson, Duck Creek Press.

The typeface and cover design of this book don’t do it justice — they have a dated appearance that feels slightly fussy alongside the illustrations, which deserve to hold the visual spotlight. Nikki Slade Robinson has illustrated over 60 children’s books! These are some of my favourites of hers that I’ve seen — simple, bright and playful.

Hedgehog Heart

by James Antoniou

illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson Published by Duck Creek Press RRP $20.00

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Thank You for Feeding Freckle by Cheyney McDonnell (Five Mile)

This is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever had to review because it keeps disappearing! No matter where I stash it, my nearly three-year-old finds it and takes it somewhere to read to himself (and leaves it in random places around the house). He’s obsessed!

This is one of the most difficult books I've ever had to review because it keeps disappearing!

Thank You for Feeding Freckle is a fun lift-the-flap, interactive story about feeding someone’s cat while they’re away. You have to find the key to the house (under the pot plant), get the cat food out of the cupboard, give the cat some pats, and so on.

A spread from Thank You For Feeding Freckle, by Cheyney McDonnell, Five Mile.

The author/illustrator is a New Zealand graphic designer, and this is her first book. The illustrations are bold and appealing—thick black outlines with flat bright colours. It’s spot-on for the sorts of details and actions that young children enjoy—my kid particularly loves the page where the cat biscuits spill on the table and where you can spot Freckle’s 'freckle'. A simple concept, brilliantly executed and perfectly pitched.

Thank You for feeding freckle

by Cheyney McDonnell

Published by Five Mile RRP $19.99

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Jane Arthur

Jane Arthur co-founded The Sapling and was on the judging panel for the 2019 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. She has a Master of Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University and won the 2018 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize. Her first poetry collection, Craven, received the 2020 Jessie Mackay Prize for Poetry in the MitoQ Best First Book Awards of the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.